'USA Today' Siding Against Donald Trump Is An Unprecedented Testament To The Importance Of This Election

For the first time in its history, USA Today came out with a presidential endorsement — well, sort of. The paper didn’t actually express support for a specific candidate, which is normally how endorsements work. Rather, it expressed non-support for a specific candidate: Donald Trump. Vote for whomever you want, the paper’s editorial board told readers, just as long as it isn’t Trump. Ultimately, USA Today’s anti-Trump endorsement is the just the latest illustration of the fact that, even in the hyper-partisan political environment we live in, Trump is an anomalously dangerous candidate, the likes of which we have not seen before in a presidential election. The paper's editorial board wrote:

This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency. From the day he declared his candidacy 15 months ago through this week’s first presidential debate, Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.

The board went on to point out many of the facts Trump detractors have been citing for the better part of the year, but two meta-aspects of this endorsement make their message particularly noteworthy.

First, USA Today has been around for 34 years, and it has never once issued an endorsement — or even a weird non-endorsement like this — until now. This is because the paper strives for political neutrality and, in its own words, hasn’t “presumed to tell our readers, who have a variety of priorities and values, which choice is best for them.”

The fact that Trump is the first presidential candidate to convince USA Today to change its no-endorsement policy is significant — as is the fact that it did so not by a slim majority, but by a unanimous vote on behalf of the editorial board. It may well hurt the paper's reputation to weigh in so decisively on a presidential race. But the editors at the paper have decided that this risk is worth taking if it means preventing Trump from becoming president.

Equally important is the fact that the paper did not endorse Hillary Clinton. The editorial board explained that its members were far from unanimously supporting Clinton:

The Editorial Board does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement. Some of us look at her command of the issues, resilience and long record of public service — as first lady, U.S. senator, and Secretary of State — and believe she’d serve the nation ably as its president. Other board members have serious reservations about Clinton’s sense of entitlement, her lack of candor and her extreme carelessness in handling classified information.

A candidate having a sense of “entitlement” is in no way relevant to their presidential qualifications, of course, but let’s put that fact aside for the moment. There are Trump supporters who, when presented with an article that depicts Trump in a negative light, will argue that the news organization in question is simply “shilling for Hillary,” and will thus reject the article out of hand.

It’s much harder to make that argument credibly in this case, though: If USA Today was really in the tank for Clinton, it probably would have endorsed her. It didn’t, because there wasn’t enough support among the board members to do so. There was, however, a unanimous agreement among USA Today’s editors to speak out against Trump. And once again, that’s never happened before.

This is only the most recent example of a paper breaking with a long-standing tradition in order to warn against the catastrophic threat of a Trump presidency. The Cincinnati Enquirer hasn’t endorsed a Democrat for president in nearly a century, but it endorsed Clinton earlier in the month, arguing that “Trump is a clear and present danger to our country.” The Arizona Republic, meanwhile, has never endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate in its entire 125-year existence — until this year.

“The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.” There are more examples of this kind of thing — the Dallas Morning News and the New Hampshire Union-Leader also broke with decades-long traditions in order to avoid endorsing Trump in this election.

And that’s not an accident. It’s also not an accident that former high-level Republican officials are coming out of the woodwork to endorse Clinton, or that no living Republican president has endorsed Trump. USA Today's editors passionately asked that readers refrain from voting for Trump as well, but insisted that, nonetheless, they also make certain to vote:

Our bottom-line advice for voters is this: Stay true to your convictions. Whatever you do, however, resist the siren song of a dangerous demagogue. By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump.

These things simply do not happen in American politics, and they are happening now because Trump is dangerous in a way that transcends policies and partisanship. We, as a country, would be wise to recognize this.